The Bible’s Take on Ritual Uncleanness and Menstruation

There are a lot of weird laws in the Old Testament that we often don’t now what to do with today. For example, an old acquaintance of mine mentioned this old gem of a passage on Facebook today:

“When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean.

Leviticus 15:19-20

I’ve found it helpful over the years to dig into passages like this rather than roll my eyes at them. And I think when we do that, the context clarifies things for us. So here’s the most condensed explanation I could write in attempts to not overload my friend’s Facebook post, should it help you as well:

There are a few thoughts going on here for pre-scientific, ancient people: A law like this was about “ritual” uncleanness, not “moral” uncleanness. Since God is a God of life and the loss of blood belongs with anti-life, conditions like this (among other things like the discharges of men and the touching of a dead body) were considered unclean and contagious, and restrained people from walking into the sacred space of the tabernacle (where God dwelt) for a limited time. Within the laws, ritual uncleanness was usually remedied by a varied wait time and some bathing. It wasn’t immoral, it was just related to things they qualified as “anti-life,” which was something they took very seriously in the sacred space of the tabernacle. Of course, Jesus (who was the tabernacle in human form) wasn’t offended by ritual uncleanness in the New Testament and spent his time around such people, even though they were often rejected by others.

If you want to go a little further into this topic, check out episode 75: “Leviticus 12-15,” on Dr. Michael Heiser’s podcast, The Naked Bible. Or check out the quick video snippet of Heiser addressing the topic below. I’d also suggest grabbing yourself the free Faithlife Study Bible app, which is still the best study notes I’ve come across and covers this topic well.

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